October 21, 2010

Arson probe: "Revenge of the scientists"

Perhaps the single most compelling exemplar of problems with the U.S. death penalty is the case of Cameron Willingham of Texas. Willingham, whom I have blogged about before, was executed in 2004 for a house fire in which his three daughters perished. But, as it turned out, the fire may not have been arson after all.

An ongoing probe is fostering rebellion by scientists against pseudoscientific evidence in arson cases. Some are even calling for a re-examination of all arson convictions in Texas from the past 20 years, according to a report by Dave Mann of the Texas Observer, who has covered the case extensively.

PBS Frontline's has a new documentary on the case, "Death by Fire," which I recommend you keep an eye out for. (It's also available on DVD.) The PBS website has great background, online videos, and interactive links. PBS' Hari Sreenivasan has additional commentary and case-related links at his news blog.

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